The Russian men’s national team has kicked off what promises to be a historic year with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand. Nobody knows more than the Russian FA that this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup is an essential test run for the nation’s selection to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup next year.
Even though the Confederations Cup is a far smaller tournament, featuring just four host cities and a fraction of the games due to be played next year, such a high profile event is still an important test for the Russians. Russian domestic football is (as is football in many countries) dogged by corruption allegations, economic disparities and, most troubling of all, a reportedly combative hooligan element within the fan base.
That being said, the opinion among ordinary Russians is much more positive than the nervous murmurings coming from other governing bodies. Russian supporters are overwhelmingly patriotic and generally feel that the hooligan element is much smaller than the Western media would have people believe. Those fringe elements are more concerned with extreme politics than they are the actual sport – and there’s no doubt that those caught transgressing and disrupting Russia’s place on the global stage will face draconian penalties.
Instead average Russians are hoping that the tournaments – and especially the World Cup – will provide an opportunity to put a few years of difficult politics behind them. Rather than focus upon scandal and extremism it’s hoped that instead the world will enjoy the many great things about their culture. A rich and proud history of collective and individual successes, a diverse and enormous country, most of the top ten most beautiful women in the world – basically everything the average football fan will look to enjoy!
So what can we expect to see from the two tournaments?
The FIFA Confederations Cup has slowly become a high profile event that is also more competitive than most people give it credit for. Global football has become a much more level playing field in recent decades, with none of the teams taking part looking seriously out of place. European champions Portugal are the bookie’s favorites as they look to continue their roll of success with a firm eye on a good showing in the World Cup next year. They’ll need to get past tournament experts Germany first though, who will themselves be looking to defend their title with a young, fresh and very exciting young team. As for dark horses keep an eye on Chile, who have a first eleven capable of matching anyone on their day.
Looking further forward – and whisper it quietly – but providing the tournament goes smoothly in regards to logistics and politics – pundits are thinking that the 2018 FIFA World Cup could potentially be the best in a generation. Many great players from the last tournament have retired or are in line to make their international swansongs, while at the same time the amount of young talent currently breaking through is little short of phenomenal. As shown last time around there’s few easy games nowadays at the top tier of international football, so expect to see further progress from African and Asian nations possibly at the expense of some of Europe’s bigger names.
So providing Russia gets it right on the night we’re looking at an amazing year of football to come.